In a context where the Church faces multiple challenges, the conclusion of the first phase of the Synod of Synodality has been a moment of grace for the Church. The meeting in Rome, held in October 2023, is a firm step in responding to the question the Synod asks itself:
“How does this journeying together allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel following the mission entrusted to it, and what steps does the Spirit invite us to take to grow as a synodal Church?”
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Bishop Juan Domingo, CMF, Bishop of Mongomo (Equatorial Guinea). He has participated with voice and vote during this Synod of Synodality. The following is a synthesis of these conversations:
For those unfamiliar, could you briefly define what a synod is and why it is so relevant to the Church today?
The synod experience expresses the idea of walking together on the same path. It also means the path that the faithful of the people of God walk together, with the plurality of its members and communities, and with the concurrent exercise of their charisms and ministries. This, therefore, refers to the Lord Jesus, who presents himself as “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), and to the fact that Christians, in their origins, were called “the disciples of the way“ (Cf. Acts 9:2).
Starting from this original reality, a synod is designated or understood as an ecclesial assembly of a consultative nature, which can be convened at different levels (diocesan, provincial or regional, patriarchal, universal) to discern, in the light of the Word of God and listening to the Holy Spirit, the doctrinal, liturgical, canonical, and pastoral issues that arise periodically. In this Synod on synodality, the totality of the Church is spoken of. Therefore, listening to the people of God through conversation in the Spirit according to the signs of the times is fundamental. The Church is called to renew its face as a prophetic sign of communion, a herald of hope for today’s world.
From your experience in this synod, what is the main lesson or message that religious congregations should take to live synodality in their daily lives?
Synodality shapes the Church as the people of God on the move, an assembly convened by the Lord to carry out the project of the kingdom of God and evangelize the people. Pope Francis has insisted a lot on these terms. In this first phase of the synodal assembly, the communion of the Church in its diversity of languages, peoples, and nations has been experienced. Consecrated life is inscribed in this dynamic as a gift from God to the Church; it must continue to be this prophetic testimony of total dedication to God and the mission, embracing the diversity of its members. I could also underline the aspect of taking care of the selection of candidates, that is, the need to carry out good discernment and look at how to form young people today. For this, much has been suggested about the need for training for synodality. On the other hand, the experience of an integrated and integrating community life, where listening to the Word of God and brothers and sisters is lived, can help all members to grow in the assumption and configuration with the spirituality and with the congregational charism in the Church, this will allow religious congregations to integrate well into the particular Churches where they have their missions. I would also like to express my gratitude and encourage all consecrated men and women who spend their lives collaborating in the advent of the kingdom of God, leading a life totally rooted in Christ.
What challenges and opportunities do you see in implementing synodality when you return to your Diocese?
I believe that this synodal process has to help us a lot in life, in ministerial exercise and renewal for a new ecclesiological vision. We have to recognize and overcome many challenges in our particular Church of Mongomo, working so that, taking on more of a synodal face, that is, a Church that promotes the co-responsibility of all the baptized, that shares the gifts it has received and, above all, that lives for the mission. I remember that my first words to the diocese in 2017 were titled: “Together, we are going to build our Church.” This spirit (synodal) is well reflected in our diocesan pastoral programming, in the pastoral letters, and in the guidelines that we share with all pastoral agents, inviting, above all, priests to live and promote priestly fraternity. The path is made by walking, so we cannot say that we do everything well. We have to review certain attitudes of clericalism that lead to abuse of authority, individualism, lack of transparency, etc. The experience of a synodal Church creates in us the awareness that “we are all Church.”
In your opinion, what role do lay people play in this synodal process, and how can they actively contribute?
Pope Francis has an expression that makes me reflect on the reality of the Church, and he says: “We are all followers of Christ,” and this from our common dignity as baptized. This synod of bishops has been atypical, that is, not only have we bishops been present, but also priests, religious, and lay people. We have learned to listen to the voices of all. The laity, as baptized, have expressed that they also feel called to share the gifts they have received in their particular Churches.
The services and ministries are for the Church, the services can be spontaneous, but the ministries, if they are instituted for the community, must first go through a process of discernment. Consequently, the Church, to respond to its mission in a world that is increasingly moving away from God, has to train the laity to promote co-responsibility so that no one feels excluded or discriminated against. In this sense, the need to remake the ministerial and service structure of the Church itself is imposed so that it is not only concerned with the deficit of vocations to the priestly ministry but also, and mainly, with the deficit of ministries so that the Church can continue to be a sacrament of intimate union with God and of the human race with each other.
Original interview conducted in Spanish by Fr. José Enrique G. R., CMF